A new study shows that there is a link between alcohol intake and shrinking of brain volume.
Researchers used MRI scans from 36,678 generally healthy middle-aged and older adults from the UK Biobank for the study and checked how past-year alcohol use affected the brain.
The study found that alcohol intake was negatively linked to global brain volume measures, regional gray matter volumes, and white matter microstructure. The researchers found that these effects started among those who were using alcohol in low doses (one or two units a day) and increased with heavier use.
The researchers highlight three key findings from their large study. They found that on average:
- People at age 50 who had 2 units of alcohol (equivalent to a pint of beer or 6-ounce glass of wine) a day in the last month had brains that appeared 2 years older than those who only had one unit of alcohol (equivalent to half a beer) per day.
- 3.5 units of alcohol per day increased the participants’ brain age by 3.5 years.
- 4 units of alcohol per day aged the participants’ brains by 10 years.
It’s not linear. It gets worse the more you [use alcohol],” said Remi Daviet, first author of the study, assistant professor of marketing in the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as per CNN.Remi Daviet, assistant professor of marketing, Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The UK Biobank study houses in-depth genetic and health information on more than 500,000 middle-aged adults living in the UK. The researchers used a sub-sample from the Biobank study for this research. Participants provided information on the number of units of alcohol they had each week in the previous year and had undergone an MRI brain scan. Researchers compared their scans with images of typical aging brains. The study controlled for such variables as age, sex, smoking status, socioeconomic status, genetic ancestry, and overall head size.
This study is the largest study conducted on the matter so far. The large sample size provides more data for researchers and makes it easier to see patterns that may not be otherwise visible.
Growing scientific evidence base: harms from low dose alcohol use
The study findings come just over a month after the World Heart Federation released their policy brief that no amount of alcohol was good for the heart. The brief summarizes the large evidence base showing that any amount of alcohol use, even in low doses, can harm cardiovascular health.
More and more scientific evidence is emerging that alcohol in any amount is harmful to health. The World Health Organization has already established that there is no safe level of alcohol citing a study published in the Lancet. This landmark study published in The Lancet was part of the annual Global Burden of Disease study in 2016. The study assessed alcohol-related health outcomes and patterns between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories.
The Lancet study established that no level of alcohol consumption improves health or is good for health.
The Lancet study findings highlight that alcohol control policies need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption. The most impactful and cost-effective means to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms are the so-called alcohol policy best buys:
- Reduce affordability through taxation or price regulation, including setting a minimum price per unit (MUP),
- Ban or restrict alcohol advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, and
- Limit the physical availability of alcohol.